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Kundu Special (Bengali: কুন্ডু স্পেশ্যাল) is a Kolkata-based Bengali family-owned Indian tour operator company that organizes railway-based tours all over India. It was established in 1933. Its clientele is primarily middle-class and upper-middle-class Bengali Hindus. It is currently administered by the third generation of the Kundu family.
It began its operations in 1933 when Sripati Charan Kundu, formerly from Bankura and at that time a resident of Kharagpur, reserved an entire train and undertook a 56-day all-India tour. He was the pioneer of tourism in India. The story goes that on that first tour the train made a stop at Sripati's native Bankura town, and many of the locals who could not afford to purchase a reservation on that tour, nevertheless wanted to be included in exchange for some of their material possessions like silverware!
Among Sripati's many business interests most of which were related to the railways, this was the one where he concentrated his efforts and introduced many of his seven sons to the business. His fourth son, Phakir Chandra Kundu, and the youngest son Debdas Kundu later took charge of Kundu Special and established it in the hearts of Bengalis as the premier tour organisation with help from many of his other brothers. Many of the tours were on "special" trains, that were entire trains reserved by the company specially for its clients. These trains were not only staffed with chefs and bearers, but also had paid medical staff on board to help the two to three hundred passengers that would be part of such a tour. The quality of the food on Kundu Special tours have been standard and since Kundu Special provided quality Bengali food no matter where in India they were, it attracted the traditional food-loving Bengali in droves. The reputation of Kundu Special was built on the personal attention provided to every traveller. The brothers themselves accompanied many of the tours 'in the early days' and ensured the quality of the service. Currently, Kundu Special is under the able leadership of SankariPrasad kundu, sixth son of Lt. Sripati ch. Kundu,Soumitra Kundu, Mr. Netai Sengupta, Office Superintendend overviewing all about Kundu Special.
The first office of Kundu Special was located at 40/1 Strand Road, an office amazingly still existing. In 1972, Phakir Kundu opened a new office at 1 Chittaranjan Avenue (now the main office) in a prime location in central Calcutta giving access to a much broader section of Calcutta society. That was also the year, Kundu Special organised tours to Europe for the first time. Phakir and one of his brothers, Sankar, themselves accompanied these tours to Europe and to the U.S.A. These 3-week all-inclusive tours, although not a part of the Kundu Special catalogue today, were a resouding success and introduced the Bengali to traveling in the West.
From reserving a full train in the 1930s, the Kundus took to reserving entire bogies (train compartments) in the 1960s. They would carry mattresses known as "Dunlopillos" to fit within the train sleeping berths for comfort. Instead of checking into hotels (there weren’t that many quality ones in those days), the tourists would stay on in the bogie that would be stationed on the side tracks, somewhere in a railway station in India. The mornings would start with hot ghee-soaked luchis and dhonkar dalna along with a steaming cup of tea (luchi, a kind of fried puffed bread is a very popular Bengali delicacy). That would lead to khichudi-begun bhaja or bhaat-maacher jhol in the afternoon. At night, meat was a staple component of the meal unless of course the tour was one of the pilgrimages where vegetarian fare was de rigueur. A frequent traveller on Kundu Special was heard saying, Aar ki chai Dada, sakal-e luchi, raat-e luchi, e-to bari-teo hoy na! (What more do you want, luchi in the morning, luchi in the evening, we don't even get this at home.) The khichudi may have given way to fried rice in the 80s and to chow mein and biryani in the 21st Century, and the stationed bogie to hotel rooms, but even in the days of Cox and Kings and fancy packages and low-cost airfares, Kundu Special holds its own as a traditional Bengali bastion.
At Kundu, each tourist group is still accompanied by two tour managers, two cooks and four bearers/waiters, all of whom are Bengali. Their primary responsibility remains to look after every need of the travellers.
Kundu Special reports that 99 per cent of the tourists remain Bengali. Their social profile remains unchanged too: they come from the middle class and upper middle class. Many clients have been touring with them over generations. There are also the rich who often fly and put up at star hotels but join the group for sightseeing.
Bengali single women and physically challenged people usually go on Kundu Special tours to avail of the comfort, safety and security.
Over the years, their itinerary has changed a bit. As it is no longer viable to have all-India tours, the tours have been broken into zone specific north India, south India, west India tours and so on. The most popular tours on Kundu Special were their comprehensive 2-week tours of Madhya pradesh, Bombay, Goa, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, and Kashmir and their many pilgrimages to Kedar-Badri, Yamunetri-Gangotri, etc. These tours were particularly popular because in those days before the advent of good communications, it was almost impossible for most people to make arrangements to visit a number of places on the same trip.
In addition to the above ever-popular tours, the Bengalis' love affair with the Himalayas was also exploited by the Kundus with tours to Simla, Naini Tal, Dalhousie, Kulu-Manali, etc. The duration of the trips has been considerably reduced over the years, now the most common ones bordering on 10- or 12-day vacations, which are shorter and more frequent.
The Kundus have also added tours to Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Leh Ladakh in the last two years. But they have dropped tours to Puri or Darjeeling, Sikkim which are traditional Bengali tourist haunts.
The market demand for Kundu Special has gone really up in spite of online booking by various tour operators.
- "Kundu Special travels in time". The Telegraph.